View Full Version : Anybody tore through concrete to dig down and convert a low ceiling barn?

Jul. 20, 2010, 03:45 PM
I have about a million questions!

Looking at an acreage with a two story prairie barn. The entire floor is cement. The ceilings are REALLY low--maybe 7-8 feet. They did house horses in there--I saw the tie stalls, but I can't.

The barn is divided into three sections on the floor level (hay loft above) and the second section is somewhat open. I was wondering if it is a riduculous idea to look at digging out/through that concrete and digging down the floor? How do you do that? The front section could stay storage, the middle for horses and the rear is a nice lean to that is enclosed and of sufficient height--it is only 10 or 12 feet wide though.

The barn needs a new roof (and it is scary steep), updated wiring, and paint (or better yet, siding) along with new doors, but I am a sucker for old buildings and it matches the historical nature of the house. There is cement everywhere, but my BO has a cement floor and just puts mats down and we have no issues (pee doesn't get underneath and reek, etc.). Of course hers is at least a 10-11 foot ceiling too!

I think it would probably be cheaper to start over, but I want to explore all options.

I have to imagine demo would be rather expensive too. Anyone have a rough idea (I"ll ask a contractor locally too, of course)?

Jul. 20, 2010, 04:04 PM
I want to explore all options.

A neighbor had an old bank barn that sounds similar to your set up. He ended up raising the entire barn and having a new concrete block foundation put in to make it suitable for housing horses. This was a relatively small barn -- maybe 40 x 60. I have no idea what the cost was.

Auventera Two
Jul. 20, 2010, 05:06 PM
This isn't likely to be helpful to you - but - we have easily kept 16-17.2 hand horses in our 8 foot ceiling converted dairy barn. Never had a single problem.

At this moment my horses range from 14 hands to 16 hands, and they live in there just fine.

I absolutely would not go to the trouble of digging out all the concrete just to make the barn "taller." No way. They learn not to pop up and whack head on rafters or they get a headache. Every new horse that's come here to live has figured it out in the first day. And sorry but if a horse is stupid enough to rear repeatedly and bash their head on the ceiling, then you're probably better off cleansing the gene pool anyway.

Horses trailer in 7 foot trailers without bashing their heads on the roof, so I don't see what the problem is????

Jul. 20, 2010, 05:47 PM
Well, yes. I see your point. Sucks if you spent a lot on the horse that needs to be cleansed from the gene pool though! I have had two TB nail their heads in barns with lower ceilings before. I guess I don't think either repeated the experience. One took out a light fixture too (not my barn). The other one got a nice scar...

I don't haul 17+ hand horses in a 7 foot trailer...I'm sure they can do it but is it good?

Actually they would almost always be outside anyway...

Jul. 20, 2010, 05:53 PM
Also, is the ceiling low because it is actually a floor for a second story, or hay loft sort of thing? You could just take that ceiling out and expose to the rafters. That would be my first choice.

Even if the ceiling was low and that WAS the rafters, it would probably be less expensive to add on a new roof with rafters, or add on height to the building than tear out the old cement.

I love thinking about things like that, do let us know what you decide to do!

And, if you got pics, post em!

Jul. 20, 2010, 06:01 PM
Yes, there is a big hayloft above. I couldn't even get to the ladder (there was a boat in my way)! That is an interesting idea. There are random support beams everywhere too.

There is also a ton of beautiful old barn floor from a barn that was tore down. 10" x 2" 20 foot long planks!!! The whole back room is full to the ceiling with reclaimed lumber!!!

I would have someone check it out structurally, but it looks really solid. The roof has held up to this point, so water didn't ruin it, like so many of the old barns. The owners are pretty cool folks and very fastidious.

I'm a bit scared to find out what a metal roof would cost. But I think that would be the way to go.

I'm getting kind of excited now.

Jul. 20, 2010, 06:27 PM
Replacing a metal roof isn't too bad, relatively speaking. Pull off the old metal, clean and repair the supports, and install the new metal.

Busting out and removing concrete and then dealing with any potential drainage issues from a below-grade floor would take a fair bit of work and not be cheap. You're talking jackhammers and bobcats. Ditto picking the whole barn up and putting a new foundation under it. That's something my dad does fairly frequently for old bank barns, especially ones with old, often drystone foundations that are starting to roll in.

You won't be able to remove the structural interior posts and will have to plan around them to use your space. It's often possible to move structural posts a short distance to a more convenient location, but is expensive and needs to be done by someone who knows what they're doing since the load still needs carried.

Auventera Two
Jul. 21, 2010, 09:55 AM
Unless the horse is a complete idiot spazz, even a 1,000,000 dollar horse isn't likely to bash its head on the rafters until it dies. Just put the horses in the barn and don't worry about it. No need to spend 30,000 to keep pookie from bumping his noggin. Some pretty big, hot and stupid horses have lived at this farm, and in our barn with 8 foot ceilings. They knock their head once and they don't do it again. People trailer their horses in here frequently for hoof boot fittings and I've never seen one of them hit their head.

Pennywell Bay
Jul. 21, 2010, 09:55 AM
I have an old bank barn that matches the historic nature of my house ( 1780s) and had to tear out the concrete floors as well and gut the inside of the barn. It was not unreasonable. The concrete was actually not that deep. It cost me labor rate to have the floor jack hammered and taken out and disposed of properly. Then I redid the inside of the barn.

And I have not had a problem w/ my horses bashing their heads. I can measure it when I get home this afternoon if you want. I had one flip her head up into the center beam ( not hard) when I was trying to clip her ears. She never did it again.

Jul. 21, 2010, 02:09 PM
I have an old bank barn on my property we thought of converting to horses. (I ended up using other barns instead). But I got a lot of advice, and the consensus was that it is better to have high ceilings, or very low ceilings; being somewhere in the middle was the worst. High = they can't bang their heads. Low = they know where the ceiling is and don't bang their heads. Medium = they forget where the ceiling is and fling their heads up whacking them.

You might try asking as many people as possible and visiting many barns. My trainer puts several of her big horses in a converted dairy barn (she has several barns) with no problems.

The other piece of advice I was given was to make sure that the barn was situated high and dry before digging down. Someone in Massachusetts did that, and every time it rained her barn flooded. My barn was on the edge of wetlands, so was definitely a concern for me.

Jul. 21, 2010, 02:27 PM
I have to disagree with the implication that it's safe for horses to hit their heads in the barn or that they learn not to do it. I've done what I can to make more room between floor and roof in my old barn, but there are still a few places with beams low enough that a horse throwing its head up can hit it.

My horses are generally very sensible. But. We've still had a couple bumped noggins over the years. One incident (happened while I was out of town and the farmsitter did something silly), the vet said the blow would have been fatal if the mare had caught the beam just a little differently. The concussion and many stitches she got were bad enough.

It's a risk--it's just up to you whether you consider it acceptable.

Jul. 21, 2010, 02:33 PM
I would determine what it's going to change about how well it drains/how the land lays/lies/falls/etc- that is concern #1.

assuming it won't flood the barn to change it, re: the ceiling - if it's 8' I would not worry about it. If you set out to clip a strange horse, lead 'em outside til you know if it's a huge deal, just be sensible.

If it's 7' then yes I'd worry about it.

Jul. 21, 2010, 09:24 PM
For what it's worth, I have two loafing sheds: one in low and one is very low. Otherwise they are identical. If given the option the horses always choose the lower shed. I don't know why but their preference is strong for the lower one. Especially for individual stalls, after watching this conduct out of these horses (and even the one that it 16.2) for years, I would not worry about 7 or 8 foot ceilings.

Jul. 22, 2010, 01:12 AM
I knew of someone that did something similar with a low barn. It didn't actually have cement, just dirt floor. They dug it out and added stalls. Looked good in theory, however the way the barn sat on the property allowed for water to fill all the stalls on one side any time it rained.It was quite a nasty mess. I'm not sure what they did to rectify it(I was taking lessons there at the time and then got my own horse and moved on to a different barn with better trainer).

Jul. 23, 2010, 12:44 AM
I third (fourth? fifth?) the suggestion to make sure that the topography outside of the barn would allow for proper drainage for a lowered floor. Have a consult with a knowledgable excavator, and have them shoot some grades with a laser level. I am an equipment operator, and have done this sort of work before - both lowering floors in buildings, and digging new foundations under raised/cribbed buildlings. A good excavator should also have contacts with heavy hauler/house movers should you be interested in getting info about raising the whole structure.

Depending on the size of the area to be lowered, and accessibility for a bobcat and trucks, it can be a tedious, time-consuming project. However, if you have a place onsite to use up the fill or gravel beneath the concrete, this will lower your costs a bit.

How big an area would you be lowering? Just for reference, if I was in the bobcat running a job like this - assuming a 30'x30' squarish area - it would be a one or two day project. An hour or so to hammer up the concrete (assuming enough headroom to use a bobcat-mounted hydraulic hammer). A few hours to load out the concrete, a few more hours to dig out the excess material, and a couple hours to grade back in new base material for the new floor. We charge about $125 an hour for the bobcat, plus the cost of material and dumping fees for material removal.

Jul. 23, 2010, 01:42 AM
I agree with the key being to figure out if it would work out with relation to drainage and so on first - and make sure you get someone in who has experience, not just someone who will eyeball it and say 'you'll be fine!', since the cost of doing it is likely to be fairly significant and the cost of trying to figure out how to stop the thing flooding every time it rains even worse. (I would not be surprised if someone doing a proper survey wanted to take a few core samples from the ground around the barn, just to see what was actually happening with the soil there and what you'd be digging down into.)

Jul. 23, 2010, 01:58 AM
Yes, a few small test holes wouldn't be a bad idea at all. Common sense says that an old barn that has survived this long sits on solid ground, and digging out a foot or so of material wouldn't be a problem. But it wouldn't hurt to poke a few holes in the ground outside the barn just to check.

Ask around in the area for a respected excavator. This isn't the kind of job for the neighbor Farmer Bill and his backhoe.

Jul. 23, 2010, 09:15 AM
It might be more beneficial overall to raise the ceiling over the stalls instead and put in new horizontal supports.

Either fix won't be easy or inexpensive and both would require someone very experienced because either one done not 100% right would be disastrous.

Or else switch to large ponies. :winkgrin: That might be the cheapest alternative and ponies are fun! :D

FWIW, my tall mare was famous for bonking her head on stuff. And nope, the dingbat never learned. She took out a light fixture, beaned herself on a beam and one time I couldn't figure out who the heck had pulled my horse's forelock for me when 80% of it was missing (and it was a skimpy one to begin with) until I noticed a large hunk of it on the top of the free standing stall wall stuck in one of the screws in the metal u-channel. :rolleyes:
Apparently the dingbat never learned that her temper tantrums could result in hair loss or a massive headache. :sigh: And that last place she ripped out her forelock didn't have ceilings and the rafters were *way* over her noggin. But she still figured out how to change her hairstyle on the top of a 7' stall wall.
When we moved her home I made sure there wasn't anything she could bonk her head on since she wasn't going to give up arguing over the tops of the stalll walls!
Boy I miss that opinionated witch.

Jul. 23, 2010, 11:12 AM
One of my concerns with a low ceiling height would be nails from the floor above being nailed to joists.....I would go around and check for nails that missed the joists and either pull them or bend them over.